Princess, Frogs, and Evil Stepmothers: The Grimm Folk and Fairy Tales

Twentieth-century German poet Georg Trakl wrote: “A world without fairy tales and myths would be as drab as life without music.” The Brothers Grimm published their first volume of fairy tales two centuries ago. Since then, fairy tale narratives and images have become deeply woven into the Western imagination. Why do mythic portrayals of courage, sacrifice, and betrayal still speak to us so powerfully? Perhaps it is because the world of fantasy, magic spells, and transformations includes so many thought-provoking layers of social commentary. Through an exploration of interpretive approaches (historical, feminist, psychoanalytic), students learn to analyze fairy tale types, themes, and motifs to gain insight into the array of meanings fairy tales still generate for modern audiences. Questions the course will explore include: What is unique about the fairy tale genre? Who are the major characters? What are typical fairy tale themes, structures, elements, and motifs? How do they maintain their continuing appeal? Do fairy tales still address our primal fears and anxieties? How and why did Disney transform the tales? How do modern adaptations employ the fairy tale form to communicate new messages? What do these transformations reveal about the authors’ intent and about contemporary social norms?